10 September 2008

Malaria drug pricing deal on cards

Anti-malaria campaigners are confident that a deal can be reached with pharmaceuticals groups to cut the cost of new drugs needed to fight malaria, which kills millions annually.

Anti-malaria campaigners are confident that a deal can be reached with pharmaceuticals groups to cut the cost of new drugs needed to fight a disease estimated to kill more than 1 million people a year.

Negotiations are being held with several big drug manufacturers as part of a wider drive to bring the cost of so-called artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) down to the level of the older, but now ineffective, chloroquinine treatments.

"I am very hopeful that this first stage, the negotiations, will produce results," Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids Tuberculosis and Malaria told reporters in Paris on Tuesday. The negotiations, part of a program called the Affordable Medicines Facility - Malaria (AMFm), aim to persuade drug companies to cut the price of ACTs to all first-time buyers to $1, the price currently charged to public sector buyers.

The AMFm would then subsidise wholesalers 95% of the cost, enabling them to sell the drugs at prices within reach of people in some of the world's poorest countries who may be living on $1 or $2 a day. Malaria, a disease spread by mosquito-borne parasites, is contracted every year by up to 500 million people, of whom more than 1 million die, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

Chloroquinine, one of the former standard treatments for the disease, has become ineffective in many countries as resistance levels have grown. But its low cost -- around 20 cents a dose compared with $4-5 for ACTs - makes it far more affordable for people living in poor African, Asian or Latin American countries where the disease is most dangerous.

More companies producing meds means lower costs
Kazatchkine said the programme would help drug companies by increasing the size of the market for ACTs and make it easier to predict demand. "We are seeing the market a lot more clearly now," he said. "Some firms were complaining that they had produced too much of these medicines. We're hoping an agreement will enable us to regulate the flow better so that everyone benefits."

Swiss drugs maker Novartis and France's Sanofi are among the Western companies that make the drug, but the sector has been shaken by the arrival of Chinese and Indian companies like Cipla and IPCA Laboratories. "The more firms there are producing these medicines, the greater the level of competition will be and the more prices will fall," Kazatchkine said.

He said a sharp increase in malaria funding over recent years had improved prospects for controlling the disease, but said an extra $1 billion a year was needed. "We have the means to control and combat malaria," he said. "It would be incomprehensible, shocking now that we are so close to being able to reduce it really significantly if we didn't." – (Reuters Health, September 2008)

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